5 Tools for a Big League Website on a Budget

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

There’s an unpleasant moment that occurs for entrepreneurs more often than it should. Someone asks for your business card, and you hand it over. They say, “Great, I’ll check out your site!” You say, “Excellent, but ignore the ‘Shop’ section — it’s out of date. And, oh yeah, the email newsletter link isn’t working, but I can add you manually to the list if you want. And … well the design is a little embarrassing …”

By this point, the person who was excited about your product just moments ago has finished the drink they were sipping and is looking for a polite way to exit the conversation — immediately.

It used to be the case that developing a robust web presence for your company was expensive and therefore often inaccessible to newer companies or those without large ecommerce or digital marketing budgets. Today, thanks to the ingenuity of fellow entrepreneurs, this is no longer the case. “You can operate at the same scalability and efficiency of a large company,” says Harley Finkelstein, chief platform officer of Shopify. “You may not know any angel investors — today it doesn’t really matter.”

Here are some of the tools that you can use to make your business seem as if you have a giant team — and bank account — behind your company’s online presence.

1. ReTargeter

Traditionally, running ad campaigns on large news sites in order to reach millions of potentially qualified leads is cost-prohibitive for anyone without a multimillion-dollar (or at least a many thousand-dollar) advertising budget. But what if you could narrow down the audience so that you were just reaching people who had actually expressed some kind of interest in your product?

ReTargeter allows you to do just that. By adding a simple snippet of code to whatever pages of your site you’d like to track (a similar process to implementing Google Analytics), ReTargeter’s system allows you to purchase advertising that shows up repeatedly for those people who have visited the aforementioned site pages. Voila — you look like a company that has the budget to wallpaper nytimes.com.

Furthermore, ReTargeter’s reach extends beyond the outlets that some small business owners might be accustomed to. “If they’re spending that sort of money on display, the real goal is to have access to more inventory than just the Google network,” says founder Arjun Dev Arora. “We’ve gone out and partnered with Glam, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and more.”

2. Shopify

Once upon a time, a few big players had a lock on the ecommerce market. If you wanted to sell your wares online, you had to play by whatever rules eBay or Etsy set. It’s obvious that today, any potential online store owner can buy a domain name. But, then what’s next?

Shopify was designed to answer that question. Their technology makes it easy to create a totally customized, extremely professional-looking storefront with little technical effort, thanks in large part to its database of pre-designed templates. Shopify also takes care of the back-end, providing analytics, the ability to create special promotions, and tools to accept payments and track your orders.

Finkelstein names iPad cover designer DODOcase as a business that’s leveraged Shopify’s resources well to make the company appear as if it’s created a much larger footprint than it actually has — and that illusion has helped the company grow its bottom line. “Today it’s a multimillion dollar business — and they still don’t have an office,” he says.

3. SinglePlatform

Restaurant owners are usually busy with their main objective — you know, making sure food gets to the table in a timely and delicious manner. But ignoring website upkeep and presence across social media channels is missing an opportunity to connect with and market to customers.

SinglePlatform allows business owners to upload offers, menus and photos to one, well, single platform, and they do the rest, populating the content across social media channels and the company’s own website. Though the company began by serving the restaurant community, it’s now expanded the offerings to all types of businesses — spas, daycare centers and even sky diving companies. With a few minutes of work a week, you end up looking like you have a dedicated web and social media staff.

4. Unbounce

Want to create a special offer for the holidays to run on your site? What about five different special offers, depending on where your users are coming from? This could be a nightmare for whatever graphic design resources you have on staff, but Unbounce allows you to create various pages without tapping into your tech team — it’s a system they say is just as easy to use as PowerPoint.

5. Grasshopper Group & Twilio

No matter how big your staff is, it’s simply impossible to always be manning the phones. The last thing you want to do, though, is miss a call that could have turned into a sale. Grasshopper Group enables you to create a professional phone system without the cost or hassle of an enterprise level solution. Add extensions, pre-recorded greetings and (an often necessary evil) hold music. When you do need to miss a call, you can receive your voicemails transcribed as emails for easier processing and forwarding around to stakeholders.

If you’d like to incorporate text messages — say, notifying a customer of a purchase they just made over the phone — Twilio is an incredibly robust tool for this very function. The API also allows for innovative integrations and customizations should your business need them.

Do you have any can’t-miss tools for making your website more thoughtful and robust? Let us know in the comments below.

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